Jillian’s Move: Good or Bad for Waterside?

28 12 2009

I think that it can be a good thing. Waterside needs to be remade into a venue that relates more to the original purpose of the building. They need a quality seafood place, independent shops (like “All About Virginia & More” and “All about Racing & More”), locally owned restaurants, and above all, LARGE  windows that give an open, public view of the waterfront. That is what the purpose of Waterside was and still should be. It is the same reason why we invest so heavily in Town Point Park. The waterfront is and ought to be the public’s domain.

Norfolk - mid-1980's - zoom in and pay close attention to the number of people at Waterside

The image above shows a Waterside full of people. It shows a Waterside tha tis not dependent on taxdollars to survive. That is what we need to rebuild. Do not tear the building down. Renovate it. Make it bright inside again.

Back to Jillian’s. They don’t need to be inside waterside. They should remain Downtown, but not in Waterside. Same goes for Hooters, Outback, and Joe’s. By themselves, they are all good places. They simply do not belong in a venue like the one that I have described. They can stay Downtown, definitely. In fact, it would improve Downtown as a whole to have those restaurants move OUT of Waterside and INTO a street-front property. The amount of pedestrian traffic would surely increase traffic and revenue to the other stores. This move is not an end, but a beginning. A good beginning.

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Transit Oriented Developments

7 12 2009

If you ever read the PilotOnlie comments, then you will know that there are just some people in Hampton Roads that just don’t get it. They just don’t get how there can be people who don’t want to live in a sprawling suburb. They just don’t get that there are actually people that want to move out of Virginia Beach and into Norfolk. They just don’t get that you actually should know what you’re talking about before you form an opinion.

Most recently, the Virginian-Pilot ran an article about HRT’s new facility that they were building. In fact, I have posted already on this. For a refresher, HRT’s new building was supposed to incorperate a mixed-use development, but now the developer is putting it on hold until the economy improves. My favorite comment so far is by the Virginia Beach Taxpayers’ Alliance’s  Vice Chairman and Transportation Chairman, Reid Greenmun. Now, this man is affiated with the VBTA, so we know that by default he is against all change and somehow wants the city to print its own money and stop wasting their tax dollars doing crazy things such as repairing schools/roads/etc. His comment is as follows:

Gosh, that must touted mythical TOD (Transit Oriented Development) HRT has been pitchinf to justify its light rail boondoggles is now shown for the myth it really was – and in this case HRT is not willing to stick with their own TOD plans! Gosh, if tens of millions of state, local, and federal taxes are available to be used to subsidize the planned HRT TOD project (LEADS “green” roof and all)- and HRT can’t make it happen with all that FREE tax money thrown into the “deal”, just imagine how unlikely it is that any PRIVATE developers will be able to find the hundreds of millions needed to build the promised TOD in VA Beach, along the old Norfolk Southern right of way. The light rail TOD ROI myth is being exposed for the sham it is – right here in River City folks!

As you can see, he (and the VBTA) is severely misguided on the concept of a TOD. If we follow his definition of a TOD, every neighborhood that happens to be built near a bus line is a TOD. This is completely and utterly wrong. In order to be a TOD, the development has to have been built because of the transit line that it sits near. The HRT mixed-use development was not being build because the buses ran through. It was being built because the developer saw potential for profit. This is the same reason that the other development  was built right across the street from the HRT building: not because of HRT, but because a developer saw profit potential in an underutilized area.

Existing Development between Granby St. and Monticello Ave. HRT building can be seen in bottom right corner.

Furthermore, if TOD were “mythical,” how can Mr. Greenmun explain actual TODs in Northern Virginia? Take the following example in Arlington, VA:

This TOD is located around the Ballston-MU Station located on the Orange Line of the DC METRO

This suburban neighborhood is located only one mile from the TOD, above. It is not located on a transit stop

TODs are not myths, as Mr. Greenmun believes. They are simply not well known around Hampton Roads because there are so few of them. They do exist here, however. Both the Belmont @ Freemason and the Wachovia Center developments are TODs. The Wachovia Center development is also a mixed-use TOD. Both of these projects have a Tide light rail stop on the same block. As Hampton Roads’s light rail lines grow and become well-used, these TODs will begin to sprout up along the routes. In fact, Virginia Beach is planning a TOD off of Newtown Road because of Norfolk’s light rail stop.

Wachovia Center (TOD) - Under Construction

Belmont @ Freemason (TOD) - Under Construction





US Development – Preserving Norfolk’s Past

5 12 2009

The Virginian-Pilot has reported that a South Carolina company, US Development, has purchased the Union Mission building, formerly the Navy YMCA building. They plan on renovating the structure and converting the building into 90 apartments. These units will be priced for the middle class, starting at $800/month. In addition to this great move for the Union Mission building, the company also announced that they have similar plans for at least 4 additional historic downtown properties, totaling $100 million and 1,500 new apartments. This is a excellent opportunity for the City of Norfolk and its residents. The increase in affordable living space downtown will increase the amount of people that live downtown. Most of these new, middle-class renters will be more likely to walk where they need to go and/or take public transportation. This, in turn, will be better for downtown shops and restaurants, the mall, and even the upscale apartments and condos, which will be more desirable when the street-scape is flourishing.

Norfolk has spent so much time and effort erasing our past that we have already lost so many buildings. Not too long ago (2007), Norfolk demolished three historic buildings to construct a four-star hotel. At the time, they couldn’t wait. It just had to be done right then or the building would not get built and the world would end. So they tore them down. Going on three years later, the still-vacant lot sits, covered in grass and gravel. The city says that they are waiting for the economy. I wonder how they could be waiting if it was supposed to be built two years ago when the economy was good.

Regardless, it is about time that we had a developer who had an actual interest in preserving historic buildings instead of tearing them down. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new path for Downtown. The district will actually grow, without the city’s help. More residents are needed Downtown to truly make a successful downtown. It is a shame that our council could not see that. Instead, they tore down buildings and catered toward the wealthy and the upscale. All of that is nice, but it won’t survive without the people of the middle class.





HRT’s New Southside Facility

4 12 2009

HRT is in the process of building a new facility for Southside services. The old (really old) maintenance building still had the old trolley tracks in the floor. The new facility will be up to date and include everything that is needed to operate an efficient, safe bus system. In the future, the building will also include a mixed-use development with shops, apartments, etc. Once this project is completed, the mixed-use portion should bring people (especially pedestrians) down Monticello Ave. When new must be built, this is the kind of development that needs to be considered to bring Norfolk into the future instead of stagnating in the past.

18th Street Facility

15th Street Facility





Downtown Anchors?

23 11 2009

Everyone knows that nearly every shopping center in the United States relies on “anchor stores,” or large department stores or “big box” stores to bring in the interest sufficient for generated foot traffic to the small stores situated between each anchor. Without these anchors, most malls would close down quickly.

MacArthur Center

 

  • Dillard’s
  • Nordstroms
  • Regal
Chesapeake Square Mall

 

  • Macy’s
  • JCPenney
  • Sears
  • Target
Gallery at Military Circle

 

  • Cinemark
  • JCPenney
  • Macy’s
  • Sears
Lynnhaven Mall

 

  • JCPenney
  • Dillard’s
  • Macy’s
  • AMC
  • Dick’s
Pembroke Mall

 

  • Sears
  • Kohl’s
  • Stein Mart
  • Regal
Greenbrier Mall

 

  • Macy’s
  • JCPennys
  • Dillard’s
  • Sears

My question is this: Why can that same principle not be applied to Downtown in general? For example, I think a Macy’s would make a great fit into Downtown’s plan and clientele. I don’t think, however, that it should be part of MacArthur Center. Instead, I think that Macy’s would be a good fit somewhere outside, such as the building on Market between Granby and Monticello (used to be TCC offices and Targeted Publications). This location would be in good proximity to MacArthur. Shoppers would shop at Macy’s and cross the street to MacArthur Center. In fact, compared to standard malls like Greenbriers, with four anchors, this location would be a de-facto fourth anchor to MacArthur.  However, because it is outside, the patrons would be inclined to shop around on Granby Street, leading to an increase in demand for Granby Street storefronts. As for the Center’s elusive third anchor, I think that something like a Best Buy (or better yet, their new competition in the region, hhgregg) would be good. A Target would be another good store to have, but since Norfolk has no full electronics store, the hhgregg might be a better option. This third anchor would be included in the current plan, of course. If you are unfamiliar, Norfolk’s vision of the third anchor lot is a high rise, mixed-use building, including an anchor, perimeter storefront shops, and apartments/condos and/or offices upstairs. This plan would do wonders for the Center, due to its residential population.

Norfolk 2020 Plan

Norfolk needs to start looking at Downtown as an area with faded boundaries. They have spent that past 30 years trying to divide it. We have office space on Main St., Commercial Retail on Granby St., etc. We need to mix this up a bit. Stores won’t move in by themselves unless there is sufficient foot traffic. You can’t get foot traffic without having residential towers. Norfolk needs to try to get these stores to work with developers to build mixed use, high-rise residential buildings with plenty of storefront shops. Additionally, they need to attract larger retailers as “anchors” Downtown. A full-time residential population, combined with jobs and retail, is the key to a successful, viable Downtown.

Cambie St & W 7th Ave., Vancouver - Note the Urban Home Depot. Across the street is an Urban Best Buy. There are condos on top of each of these buildings





Form-Based Zoning

11 11 2009

Recently, I brought up the form-based zoning included in the Virginia Beach Comprehensive Plan and it occurred to me that, while it has been around for a little while, most people have never heard of it and know relatively little about it. Before we talk about form-based zoning though, lets talk about conventional zoning.

Most people have heard about conventional zoning. In conventional zoning, each area of the city is defined as either Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Institutional, or Government. These categories or broken down further based usually on building size and use. For example, a simplified definition of each zoning district in Norfolk is shown below:

Residence Districts.   (du=Dwelling Unit)

  • R-1 One-Family District: 25,000 sq. ft./du* (1.74 du/acre)
  • R-2 One-Family District: 20,000 sq. ft./du (2.18 du/acre)
  • R-3 One-Family District: 15,000 sq. ft./du (2.90 du/acre)
  • R-4 One-Family District: 12,000 sq. ft./du (3.63 du/acre)
  • R-5 One-Family District: 10,000 sq. ft./du (4.36 du/acre)
  • R-6 One-Family District: 7,500 sq. ft./du (5.81 du/acre)
  • R-7 One-Family District: 6,000 sq. ft./du (7.26 du/acre)
  • R-8 One-Family District: 5,000 sq. ft./du (8.71 du/acre)
  • R-9 One-Family District: 4,000 sq. ft./du (10.89 du/acre)
  • R-10 Townhouse District: 2,000 sq. ft./du (21.78 du/acre)
  • R-11 Moderate Density Multiple-Family District: 2,900 sq. ft./du (15.02 du/acre)
  • R-12 Medium Density Multiple-Family District: 2,200 sq. ft./du (19.80 du/acre)
  • R-13 Moderately High Density Multiple-Family District: 1,800 sq. ft./du (24.20 du/acre)
  • R-14 High Density Multiple-Family District: 1,333 sq. ft./du (32.67 du/acre)
  • R-15 High Density Multiple-Family District: 1,000 sq. ft./du (43.56 du/acre)

Office and Business/Commerce Districts.

  • O-1 Office District
  • BC-1 Business and Commerce Park District
  • BC-2 Business and Commerce Park District

Commercial Districts.

  • C-1 Limited Commercial District
  • C-2 Corridor Commercial District
  • C-3 Retail Center District
  • C-4 Large Scale Commercial District

Industrial Districts.

  • I-1 Limited Industrial District
  • I-2 Light Industrial District
  • I-3 General Industrial District
  • I-4 Waterfront Industrial District
  • I-5 Deep Waterfront Industrial District

Downtown Districts.

  • D-1 Downtown Waterfront District
  • D-2 Downtown Regional Center District
  • D-3 Freemason/Granby Conservation and Mixed Use District
  • D-4 Downtown Cultural and Convention Center District

Historic and Cultural Conservation Districts.

  • Ghent Historic and Cultural Conservation Districts (HC-G1 and HC-G2)
  • West Freemason Historic and Cultural Conservation Districts (HC-WF1 and HC-WF2)
  • Hodges House Historic and Cultural Conservation District (HC-HH)
  • East Freemason Historic and Cultural Conservation District (HC-EF)

Special purpose districts.

  • Institutional Districts (IN)
  • Manufactured Home Park District (MHP)
  • General Airport District (GA)
  • Open Space Preservation District (OSP)
  • Military Installation District (MI)
  • University Village District (UV)

Overlay Districts.

  • Airport Safety Overlay District (ASO)
  • Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Overlay District (CBPAO)
  • Flood Plain/Coastal Hazard District (FPCHO)
  • Historic Overlay District (HO)
  • Downtown Historic Overlay District (HO-D)
  • Pedestrian Commercial Overlay District (PCO)
  • Residential Compatibility Overlay District (RCO)
  • Institutional Residential Impact Overlay District (IRIO)
  • Bay Front Residential Parking Overlay District (BFRPO)
  • Localized Alternative Sign Overlay District (LASO)
  • Norfolk International Airport Localized Alternative Sign Overlay District (NIA-LASO)
  • Alternative Siting Residential Overlay District (ASRO)
  • Janaf Shopping Center Localized Alternative Sign Overlay District (JANAF-LASO)
  • Bayfront Residential Siting Overlay District
  • Pedestrian Commercial Overlay District–Colley Avenue (PCO-COLLEY)
  • Pedestrian Commercial Overlay District–21st Street (PCO-21st ST)
  • Palace Shops Localized Alternative Sign Overlay District
  • Military Circle Localized Alternative Sign Overlay District
  • Pedestrian Commercial Overlay District–Riverview (PCO-Riverview)
  • Military Crossing Localized Sign Overlay District
  • Nauticus Localized Sign Overlay District
  • Park Place Residential Overlay District
  • MacArthur Center Localized Alternative Sign Overlay District
  • Localized Alternative Sign Overlay District for the Waterside
  • Roosevelt Gardens Localized Sign Overlay District
  • Pedestrian Commercial Overlay District–35th Street (PCO-35th)
  • Medical Center Sign Overlay District
  • Pedestrian Commercial Overlay District–Five Points (PCO 5 PTS)
  • Super K-Mart Localized Alternative Sign Overlay District (Super K-mart LASO)
  • Kimnach Ford Localized Sign Overlay District (Ford-LASO)
  • West Church Street Overlay District
  • Picadilly Mews Siting Overlay District
  • Ocean View Residential Siting Overlay District
  • Best Square Sign Overlay District
  • Lafayette Boulevard Pedestrian Commercial and Residential Overlay District (PCRO-Lafayette Boulevard)
  • Green Gifford Localized Sign Overlay District (Green Gifford-LASO)

Look overly complicated and confusing? Try building something and following the rules of each district. Better yet, try building something that spans lots of different zones, which would require council approval for rezoning. I live in a house zoned R-8. According to this zone, my lot should be a certain size and their are requirements to keep me from building to the edge of the lot. It also prohibits me from opening, say, a convenience store on the lot next door to me. This, by its very nature, is designed to keep uses separate. How can you walk to your destinations when they are required to be separate? These zoning codes a designed to increase the ability of the city to predict and manage automobile traffic patterns. Think about that. These codes are designed to prevent effective non-motorized travel. These codes are intended to benefit automobile drivers and promote a suburban, car-centric lifestyle.

Think about what you would call a ‘vibrant’ city or area. Downtown Norfolk? Town Center? The Oceanfront? New York City? San Francisco? Chances are, that no matter what area you picked, there is a lot of foot traffic. That said, it would also be fair to say that foot traffic equals vibrancy. It can also be said that most people agree that vibrancy is a good common goal. Nobody, not even the staunchest suburbanite, likes to be in an area with zero human interaction. Now think about the area that you picked. Why is there heavy foot traffic? Even if you picked MacArthur Center or Lynnhaven Mall, the reason there are people walking around is because everything is close together and because there are other people. Now, think about this. If Lynnhaven Mall required each store to be a minimum of 100 feet apart, would you still go? Or would it no longer be comfortable and convenient? That is what conventional zoning does. It forces you apart.

Form-Based Zoning on the other hand, is designed to keep you together. It is thoughtfully structured to allow only structures that are slightly denser than what is currently there, thereby creating an environment of steadily increasing density. It also allows for mixed use. The higher density a mixed use development is, the more likely that it will succeed of its own accord. Form-Based Zoning actually encourages mixed use. If you could walk everywhere you need to shop at and all you neighbors did the same, wouldn’t you?

Now, keeping in mind the conventional zoning, such as Norfolk’s, here is the basics for the Form-Based Zoning code that was recently adopted for Miami, Florida:

Notice how much simpler it is. The actual written code would include things such as height requirements/restrictions and building placement but it would be much more flexible. We should encourage Norfolk and even Chesapeake to adopt a form-based code. In addition to fostering higher density, mixed use developments, the form-based code make mass transit possible and gets people to walk/bike instead of drive, therefore lessening the amount of traffic on the roads without building more of them. Looking at it from a business point of view, localities that stick to form based codes tend not waste developers’ money. The developer can plan a building and already know what the city wants without having to go through lengthy meetings with a planning department. Finally, from a municipal standpoint, the city spends less time and money regulating and more time enjoying what it really wanted the whole time: strong developments that don’t take a toll on city resources. Please encourage your councilmen/women to look at and approve a form-based code.

If you would like to learn more about form-based codes, please visit http://www.formbasedcodes.org/

If you would like to see the specifics of a community that has already started the switch to a Form-Based Code, visit http://www.miami21.org, which is the main page for Miami’s Comprehensive Plan update process.





Green Metropolis – A Book Review

9 11 2009

Green Metropolis - By: David Owen

Last Thursday, I purchased the book Green Metropolis, written by David Owen. This book was an incredibly well thought out, well researched book. Contrary to the popular held opinion that ‘being green’ involves CFLs and recycling, Owen argues that the greenest city in America is not in Maine or Oregon, but rather New York. In fact, he argues that New York City is the greenest city in America. I was confused too, at first, because the image that I (and most people) have of NYC is a dirty, concrete jungle full of traffic jams and smog. According to Owen’s research, despite the dirty nature of NYC, the city uses less energy per person than any other city in the USA. He uses gasoline as an example and compares NYC to Vermont. Most would agree that wehn you think ‘green,’ you are thinking about something that looks like Vermont: trees, clean air, clean water, etc. According to Owen’s statistics, Vermont residents, on average use 545 gallons of gasoline per person per year, whereas Manhattan residents use only 90 gallons of gasoline per person per year.

It is an interesting theory that the more compact a city is, the more energy efficient it is. There are many examples in this book that I think are important lessons for area, especially since the light rail will be opening next year and we want to expand it and we want it to succeed. Owen talks about light rail. He references it in multiple places. First, in order to be successful, he reinforces the fact that the area served by light rail (or any transit system) needs to be dense.  He references a specific density of seven people per acre. This gives us something to think about if we want to have a regional mass transit system. Hampton Road’s overall density is .625 people per acre. Of course that includes rural counties such as Surry and Isle of Wight. Norfolk’s density is 6.82; much closer to the 7/acre number referenced by Owen as essential for successful transit.  When you consider that there are many places in Norfolk that are not ever going to be ‘dense’ (such as the 1300 acre Norfolk International Airport), we really do have a good start. Virginia Beach has a little bit to go. Their density is only 2.67 people per acre. Granted, half of the city is rural, we will give them the benefit of the doubt and give them 5.4 people per acre. That takes into consideration that most of their people live above the self-imposed ‘green-line.’ In the past few years, they have made great strides increasing density. Town Center is a good example. The recently proposed redevelopment of the Newtown Road ‘Strategic Growth Area’ is another good start (also an attempt to capitalize off of light rail without officially supporting it). We must continue to make the corridors around the light rail lines and proposed light rail lines more dense. I specifically emphasize proposed because if we can make these corridors dense now, it will be easier to get funding and ridership once they are built.

Another thing that Owen’s emphasizes in his book is that, in order to make density and transit more effective, we have to stop catering to cars. If we keep building new roads and highways, we are only reinforcing the automobile’s ease of use. If it is cheaper and easier to drive to work than use transit, why would you bother? Instead, we should use a combination of tolls, gas taxes, congestion pricing, etc. to make driving more costly and less inviting. The proceeds from these revenue streams could be used to expand the transit system. We have to remember, though, that while we want to make driving more uninviting, we do not want to make transporting goods more costly, which would only raise prices of everything and hurt the economy. Truck traffic could face free tolls, lower diesel taxes, or designated lanes (these lanes would be removed from regular lanes, increasing congestion and making car travel even more uninviting). I am not saying to do this overnight, but it is certainly worth it. With a denser area that focused on efficient transit rather than wasteful suburbanism, Hampton Roads would be more likely to compete with other areas.

These are just some of the ideas that would be useful in creating a more efficient, more environmentally friendly metropolitan area. I strongly suggest that everyone reads this book. Especially those who identify themselves as environmentalists. Current ‘environmentalism’ is destroying the planet. Hybrid cars are terrible ideas and only firm up and strengthen our dependence on oil. Read this book. No matter who you are, you will gain something. No matter who you are, your opinions on environmentalism will change.

…in the long run, a car’s fuel gauge is far less significant, environmentally speaking, than its odometer. In the same way that life in Manhattan is inherently energy-efficient, whether or not residents consciously try to conserve, life in the suburbs and beyond is inherently wasteful, no matter what kind of cars the residents park in their garage, or how assidously they swap incandescent lightbulbs for compact fluorescents. It’s miles traveled, not miles per gallon, that make the difference. A sprawling suburb is a fuel-burning, carbon-belching, waste-producing, water-guzzling, pollution-spewing, toxic-leaking machine, and, unlike a Hummer, it can’t be easily abandoned for something smaller and less destructive. We’ve spent a century erecting our way of life. Now we must reconfigure it.

-Excerpt: Green Metropolis – By: David Owen